For 41 years, the Jets called their Hofstra training site home, with a lifetime's worth of memories that ran from the fabled Joe Namath era, to the New York Sack Exchange days, to Bill Parcells and Curtis Martin and Vinny Testaverde and Bill Belichick -- that one memorable day as head coach, anyway -- and then to the early days of Brett Favre's forgettable season in New York.
Those bonds grew strong with Jets fans, who had a chance to watch their team up close in training camp and enjoy a front-row seat at the Hempstead campus. It was a chance for fathers and mothers to take their sons and daughters to see and hear and meet these special athletes, in a way that television simply can't transcend. A chance to behold just how powerful and athletic they truly are. A chance to get an autograph or, if they were really lucky, a chinstrap or a sweatband from these larger-than-life players.
Special times for a doggedly loyal fan base that has stayed true to the green-and-white in good times and (mostly) bad, ever since Namath led the team to their only Super Bowl championship.
Many of those fans sent the strongest possible message on Thursday that the Jets ought to re-connect with their Long Island roots and return to the heart of their fan base for their summer-long training camp. An estimated 11,000 fans streamed into Shuart Stadium to watch the Jets' final practice session before their annual preseason game against the Giants on Friday night at MetLife Stadium.
It is time to re-create the memories that lasted nearly half a century on Long Island. It is time for the Jets to move back home for training camp.
"When you look at 11,000 coming for one day, one practice, they're sending a serious message to the Jets that they want the team to come back here," said former Jets defensive end Marty Lyons, who came to the team in 1979 as a first-round draft pick out of Alabama and never left. Lyons, who played until 1989, lives in Smithtown and has connected with the community the way many other Jets players have over the years.
"I've always told the players when they get drafted that you have to identify with the fans, let them know who you are besides your name and number," said Lyons, who does color commentary for the Jets' ESPN radio broadcasts. "I stayed up here year-round and I got to know the people of Long Island. When we started the , they were the first people that reached out and asked, 'How can we help?' They wanted to help me, the person, not the football player."
Lyons now hopes the Jets, who seriously are considering a move from their upstate Cortland training camp digs to Farmingdale State, where the school's central location and infrastructure would make a move to Long Island a can't-lose proposition.
"I think the Jets would love to come back out, especially since the majority of their fan base makes the trip from Nassau, Suffolk and Queens to MetLife Stadium to see the games," Lyons said. "It's a nice way of bringing the team back home."
It makes sense at every level:
A large segment of the fan base would get to experience practice on a regular basis, unlike the handful that attend practices in Cortland, a prohibitively long drive for most. There is simply nothing like the experience of watching a professional football team in camp, and the powerful connections that are made often last a lifetime. Fans become much more invested in a team when they can see the players in person.
The financial benefits for the team can be immense. Re-connecting with Long Island, where there is peak interest in the team, will no doubt translate to increased season tickets and sale of personal seat licenses.
There would be a positive economic impact to the local community, which offers restaurants, shopping and entertainment.
And, from a purely football perspective, the team would have the opportunity to live on campus and form the kind of bonds that Rex Ryan likes to see from his players. That's why Ryan prefers taking his team away to Cortland; at Farmingdale State, it may be closer to the team's home training complex, but it's still far enough away for Ryan to promote his team-building environment. Ryan and general manager John Idzik joined their fathers, both of them former Jets' assistant coaches, and experienced firsthand just how special the Long Island connection was.
Now it's time the Jets listen to what those 11,000 fans were telling them Thursday night. Now it's time for them to come back home.